History of Tea in China: Tea comes from a shrub, Camellia sinensos, whose leaves, buds, and internodes are made into a beverage by infusion with boiling water. Legend has it that tea was discovered in ancient China over 5,000 years ago, when an emperor decreed that drinking water must be boiled for health reasons. As his servants followed this order, some leaves fell into the water from a nearby bush and flavored the brew, creating the first tea. In 800 A.D., the Chinese scholar and philosopher Lu Yu wrote the first book on tea--a vast work codifying various methods of cultivating and preparing tea in China. Later, tea was introduced to Japan by a returning Buddhist missionary/priest who had seen the value of tea in enhancing religious meditation in China. The Japanese Tea Ceremony became an art form.

Europeans and Tea: Portugal was the first European nation to drink tea. They had a superior navy and were the first to gain trade rights in China. In 1560 a Jesuit missionary brought tea to Portugal. The Dutch were next, and Dutchman Peter Stuyvesant brought the first tea to America, introducing it to the Dutch colony New Amsterdam (later New York.) When England acquired this colony, they found the colonists in this small, remote area drank more tea than all of England!

England soon became devoted to tea. The John Company, later merged with the East India company in 1773, was granted a monopoly on all commerce with China and India, including importation of tea. Thus, the price was kept high, and this led to difficulties for Britain. Tea importation rose from 40,000 pounds in 1699 to an annual average of 240,000 pound by 1708. Afternon tea became popular in England, and it still is today. The hostess often served tea in fine porcelain from China. English coffee houses began to serve tea instead. They were called "Penny Universities" because for a penny a man (no women allowed) could have a pot of tea, read the newspaper, and converse with friends. The coffee houses specialized by occupation--some for attorneys, some for authors, some for military personnel, etc. One house was owned by Edward Lloyd and was patronized by shipowners, merchants, and marine insurers. This shop was the origin of Lloyd's, the worldwide insurance firm.

The Boston Tea Party: In June of 1767 Parliament levied a "tea tax" on the American colonies. This was the culminating insult to many colonists, who resented other taxes imposed by the English. The colonists rebelled and began to openly purchase tea from competitors of the British. In 1773 England passed the Tea Act, granting the British permission to sell tea directly to the colonies withoug going through colonial merchants. This kept their prices lower than the colonial merchants' prices for their tea, which was smuggled in from Holland. Thus, the British eliminated the middleman and pocketed the difference. They counted on American women's passion for tea, but throughout the colonies women pledged not to drink English tea until Americans were granted their full rights. By December 16, 1773, relations had deteriorated. The colonies demanded that the British remove the tea tax. American dock workers refused to unload tea from British ships. The British Governor of Massachusetts demanded that the tea be unloaded and the people pay the taxes. Men from Boston, dressed as Indians, threw hundreds of pounds of tea into Boston Harbor. In retaliation, the English closed the port of Boston and Royal troops occupied the city. After the Revolution, Americans were free to trade directly with China, and to procure their own supply of tea, as well as other Chinese goods.